[ originally published 10/19/09 | updated 01/01/18]
[ originally published 10/12/09 | updated 10/12/17]
Sympathy for the devil.
Lemme tell you about my friend Dino, aka DarkOne.
When I launched Gearbox Magazine back in 2009, Dino was the first person I sought out for an interview. He ran the forum that taught me pretty much everything I know about cars and automotive performance—and became family over the years—2GNT.com. [Read more…]
First things first.
While DSMs are—absolutely—known for their turbocharged, all-wheel-drive reputation, that does NOT mean any Mitsubishi-made car from the 90s available turbocharged with all-wheel-drive is a DSM. [Read more…]
I have a new truck. I’m calling him Fezzik. A little over a week in, I’m surprised I’m not in a padded cell yet. Here’s what happened.
Finally wrapping up my conversation with Paul Volk about why he parted out his award-winning, compound turbo DSM, Paul tells me what he feels has been the best part of being a gearhead.
Parting with a unique vehicle is both blessing and curse. It can be fun to follow the machine as it goes from owner to owner, being loved and improved over time. Then again, it can be gut-wrenching to see it neglected and half-assed into a withered husk of its former self.
I like seeing my old daily driver, a 92 Galant VR4, being prepared for rally competition by the new owner on the east coast, but it depresses me to see my first automotive love, Daisy, my 97 Talon, has had 3 owners and 4 accidents (according to CarFax) since I sold her. The only way to avoid such disappointment is to chop up the car and scrap it yourself.
“Being a gearhead has gifted me with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. In moments of tragedy, they’ve been there for me like family. With great success, they were there to celebrate. Annual car meets end up being family reunions. It’s a great comfort to know that aside from the build advice and racing techniques, we all still have a lot in common and enjoy each others’ company. There are no doubts in my mind that these people will be a part of our lives for years to come.”
I haven’t been to Norwalk in 2+ years. Not really into drag racing, I don’t really miss the racing. I miss my friends. They’re the real reason I spend over $1,000 on hotel, airfare, and drunken debauchery in a sleepy, Ohio bedroom community.
Since 2003 or 2004, I’ve only missed the Shootout three times. The first was because I was stuck working at Enterprise Wreck-a-Life, and I’ll never forget the hot summer day I spent washing stripped down, GM fleet turds behind a derelict, Mesa shanty in a shirt and tie before being forced to attend an immediately-after-work happy hour with the guys from the local Chevy dealership who sent us 90% of our business instead of hopping a plane to Chicago or Indy or such to catch a ride with a DSM brother. [Read more…]
[bd] It sounds like you had a pretty epic road trip. I moved so many times, growing up in the military, I think I’ve permanently got PCS Syndrome – an itch to move all the time. Though the government told you where you were moving and when, I wonder if your gearhead connections helped you find your new place in SoCal. What about work for you, social life, shops, vendors, and such?
[bd] You moved from Florida all the way across the country to California. Why?
[jg] My husband Justin is an active member of the United States Navy. His orders for Florida were up and it was time for us to move to a new duty station. We lucked out and were chosen to be relocated to beautiful southern California. [Read more…]
COMING UP IN 1.06 | Master Yoda said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” If you’ve ever had a vehicle totaled in an accident, you can see how it can quickly lead to the Dark Side.
You pure, straight hate the other guy. You’re furious at how your hopes and dreams have been hobbled in an instant by some inattentive ass completely undeserving of a license. You want that person to suffer. Even years later, it’s easy to channel the negative energy, tapping into for the right words to introduce a story preview on the website.
Being gearheads, many of us swallow the sadness, relegate once prized possessions to mere scrap heaps, buy them back from the insurance [Read more…]
When he runs Recce, the corners make note of him. Parc ferme is named after his left foot; Force Majeur, his right. He’s the reason any stage is considered a Super Special Stage. His name is Tony Chavez, he is the most interesting man in rally, and – I’m proud to proclaim – he is a friend of mine.
HOW I CAME TO KNOW THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN RALLY
I first met Tony a few years back at one of the now widely-known CRS (California Rally Series) after rally parties. He was at the center of the action, in the eye of the storm if you will, hoisting a bottle of the finest Cazadores tequila alongside the one and only Mustafa Şamli at the controls of El Blendero, the 2-stroke-powered blender from which all “Group B Margaritas” flow. Despite the whirlwind of well-earned inebriation spinning ’round (and well-blended spirits spinning before), Tony’s voice could be heard loud and clear; his mellow, Latin accent permeating the felicitous cacophony of celebration with sincere belly laughs, referring to just about everyone as “my friend.”
Though I’ve attended the Prescott Rally every year since 2005, served as California Rally Series Press Liaison (at Tony’s recommendation) in 2007, been running this little magazine since 2009, and run into Señor Chavez numerous times since, I’ve yet to point my inquisitive emails his direction. His unusual absence from Prescott this past October was a deafening silence in the soundtrack that is my CRS family, reminding me how little I actually knew of el Jefe. I tracked down an old email and got to work.
INTRODUCTIONS: TONY CHAVEZ
Originally from Peru, Tony’s been living in the United States since 1978 and currently calls Cerritos, California, home. He’s founder and CEO of a contract packaging company called Condor Enterprises, specializing in blister and skin packing, laser marking, labeling, assembly, and more. Condor opened its doors in 1990 and Tony is pleased to share they have weathered the recent economic downturn.
Let’s get into the interview, shall we?
Introductions: What do race, how do you race it, and why do you race it, specifically?
Currently, I race a 1986 VW Golf GTI in the Production Class. This is my 4th rally Golf. I have owned and raced a variety of rally cars – a Datsun 510, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Mitsubishi Galant, VW Golf Reynard, and a number of what is known as the MkII Golf.
Since stepping down from Open 4WD in 2000, I have been campaigning a Golf. They are good, solid cars and come with a variety of powerplants, both in 8 valve and 16 valve variants. For my driving style, I prefer the 16 valve because it revs higher and that’s how I drive – nothing below 4,000 rpm.
Another reason for the Golf is cost. When I ran the Open Class cars, I had some very serious sponsors and, while they provided me with the economic means to run up front in the biggest class in the sport, they also required quite a bit of time for special events, etc..In 2000, at the Ramada Express Rally, I had a huge scare. I was not able to do recce that weekend, so Doug Robinson, my dear friend and long time co-driver, did recce and took notes. At the start of the rally on Friday, all went well in the first stage and we were running top 5 overall. In the middle of the second stage there was a straightaway about 3 miles long with several blind crests. The notes said “flat out over crest” and I did just that for the first 3 crests. While in the air after the third crest I saw the next and the road going left, Doug called a right after crest, I believed it was wrong and I turned the car left just before we took the jump, the road indeed went right, I was wrong. All this at 110 mph.At that moment I decided to just enjoy rally driving for what it was – FUN – and not take unnecessary risks which could possibly hurt Doug or myself.
Doug called a right after crest, I believed it was wrong and I turned the car left just before we took the jump, the road indeed went right, I was wrong. All this at 110 mph.
That is how we ended up running a Production Class GTI. In early 2000, I purchased the GTI and, while picking it up with Doug, we decided to run the entire SCCA National Championship to try to win the National Production Class Championship – which we did – along with the SCCA Pacific Southwest title and the CRS P-Stock Championship, the same year in the same car. I believe we are the only ones to have won the Rally Triple Crown, all 3 championships in the same year.Since then, I have raced CRS events. These rallies are mostly in California and Nevada and, of course, The Prescott Rally, my favorite event, in Arizona. I have also done some international rallying, mostly in Mexico, running the 24 Hour Rally, the Ensenada Rally and several road racing circuits with pretty good success.
How did you get started in rally?
Rally has always been huge in South America. I come from the country that hosts The Inca Rally, a week long rally covering 3,000 miles (8,000km). So rallying was always something I wanted to do as a kid growing up. I did some racing in Peru, but with no experience and no financial backing of my own.
When I moved to the US in 1978, I had to, of course, get a job, learn the language, and get with the program of being a grown up for a few years, so racing took a back seat. In the early 90’s I was financially secured and ready to start racing again. Rallying is what I wanted to do as part of other racing activities.
Here is when rallying really became my passion. I did some searching and found a group called the California Rally Series (CRS for short), which organized rallies locally. I contacted some of the CRS members and they were nothing but nice to me from the very first time. People like Mike and Paula Gibeault, Ray Hocker, Lon Peterson, Bill Gutzmann, Jeff Hendricks – the founders of rallying in California – went out of their way to welcome a newcomer that ,to this day, speaks English with an accent. [A kick-ass accent! -BD]
1992 Rim of the World was my first proper rally. I received 1,200 penalty points on Friday and another 1,400 on Saturday, and I finished dead last in my Datsun 510, but I was hooked! About a week later, I realized I had lost 28 minutes in penalties – talk about being embarrassed after the fact!
In time, I did learn how rally worked, and I also learned how to drive fast. This I owe to Lon Peterson, who in one morning taught me more that I could have learned in years on my own.
Why do you think rally is so different depending on where you are in the world?
There are several reasons for it. The first one is geography. In Europe, countries are much smaller and most rallies are within a relatively small area. That allows more people to rally on smaller budgets. Second is opportunity to watch, versus other sports. In the US, we have too many professional sports and people got used to having in them in your face (meaning on TV). There is so much money in TV ratings that any sport not televised doesn’t get exposure at all. Take X-Games or Global Rallycross for example; these two are going to destroy what is left of the sport and their excuse is to get TV ratings – gap jumps, running cars in opposite directions, etc., is a recipe for disaster.
A few years ago, rally was sanctioned by the SCCA. Things were good. There were regional and national championships, the sport was growing, entries were up. Then they got a wild idea to align the national classes to the FIA and get a shot at a WRC event. That was beginning of the end. SCCA decided to drop rally, claiming the insurance cost was getting too expensive due to a couple spectator accidents, and since rally was a small part of their operation and the risk was so high, we were gone. Then came the funny part – NASA and Rally America.
NASA Rally Sport is run by people that know about rallying, have lots of experience, and believe rally is a viable sport that can survive from the grassroots up. Rallying is tough. Make events long, run them at night, make them fun. Rally America, on the other hand, is run by the biggest wallet and all they want to do is be on TV. And whoever wants to whore themselves out becomes their newest superstar.
How do you think we might better unify the global rally community, given the diversity of local cultures and laws?
I believe we can have a happy medium, where we have regional and national championships and realize once and for all rally will never be a huge mass sport in the US. Once people understand that, we can concentrate on making it work. A good way to look at rally is the real cost of each stage mile. US$10-$12 dollars for each stage mile is a good deal nowadays. Get 6 small events per year per region, have the best 8 be the national events, and everything will work because it will be simple, with existing events; some being overlapped as a national. The fast local guys would pay the extra entry fee to run the national event while still running their regional event.
In our particular area, we have a similar problem. The California Rally Series has been, is, and always will be the premier rally organization in the South Pacific area. Unfortunately, a group of disgruntled former CRS organizers decided to do everything in their power to take down the CRS at all costs and formed a rival series. For the past few years, they have organized rallies with very limited success as their entry is very low. Following the same ideas as their supporters from Rally America, they try to lure competitors with “big” sponsors at every little event. It obviously doesn’t work, as their entry lists get smaller and smaller, but they must think we’re either prostitutes or – damn.
Rallyists don’t enter a rally to get prizes. We go for the fun, the speed, and the trophy. I couldn’t care less what a radio station or lubricant company is doing or donating. If the event is not fun, I am not going. Besides, my personal feeling is all they want to do is destroy the CRS and 30 years of hard work by some very good people (themselves included). When their series fails – and it will – rallying will be better.
What keeps you coming back, event after event, year after year?
The people. Rallying is not about the cars, it is about the people. After all, you can go road racing by yourself.To rally, you must have at least 2 people like you to go with you; one to co-drive, the other to drive your service truck. When you’re out there on stage, specially in dusty conditions, the car interval is 2 minutes. If something goes wrong – and it will inevitably go wrong at one point or another – your only hope is the people in the cars behind you. Your life is in their hands and theirs in yours.
This is the only sport where your toughest competitor lends you the spare parts you need in service so you can go back out and continue the battle. We want to win on stage. We welcome the competition. And there is the other people thing; the after rally party, a chance to spend time with the people who share your love of rallying; a relaxed time when everyone has a story to tell. After all, each rally is nothing but a great experience.
When you go to a rally, you are surrounded by people who not only love rallying, but who are, in that moment, at a good point in their lives. Everyone is healthy, they all have a couple extra dollars to spend, they have a job or the means to survive, their family is okay, and they can take the time to enjoy their sport. In a few words, eveyone at a rally is looking for a good time and that makes it fun.
These last few years, I have had a major change in my rally team. My wife, Raquel, is my new co-driver, and that has made a world of difference to me. Rallying now is a complete family affair. I have my best friend and wife in the car with me. These last couple of years, I have felt complete in the rally car. And while we have not rallied as much as we would have liked, we have actually won every event we have entered together except Gorman 2010 (our first rally together), when the fuel pump failed (while we were leading). Now my daughter and son-in-law are starting to rally. This is, of course, music to my ears, and I hope to help and support them as much as I can and help them raise their kids inside the rally family.
What’s the most important thing the rally community can do today to grow the sport?
We (the rally people) need to make access to new people easier, not only competitors, but workers, volunteers and people that just want to come out and watch. If the fist thing you say is “No spectators will be allowed,” you’re pretty much shooting yourself in the foot. Spectators are your future volunteers AND competitors.
A simple way to attract competitors – not just new competitors, but people that have rallied before and have since parked their car – is to reduce the cost per mile. (Entry fee divided by stage miles).
We need to use social media. This is a sure way to attract new people to our sport and to keep the existing ones informed. The demographics have changed in rallying, we have gone from an era where drivers were daredevils driving by the seat of their pants, to a new generation where drivers, and co-drivers for that matter, are educated people who inform themselves before taking up a new hobby (and let’s not forget this is what rally is). New drivers – I call them the X-box generation – they have all played a game or two of rallying before trying out the sport. These are people used to receiving their news via social media.
Most important thing we can do is think about the future of the sport. We need to have continuity. People need to see the same faces and the rules must be stable. This is the way to grow the sport. Have fewer events that are solid and fun rallies.
“ATC” STANDS FOR “ARRIVAL OF TONY CHAVEZ”
If you’re looking for Tony at a rally, you’ll either find him at the front of the pack in a Condor-liveried VW, or at the center of the cheering, laughing crowd at the after party. Walk up, shake his hand, and introduce yourself. You won’t be disappointed. As for finding Tony between rallies, he’s on Facebook and also spends time in the Special Stage Pacific Southwest forum. He replies to as many rally questions as he gets through these channels (and we bet he gets lots of these).
“FTC” stands for “Follow Tony Chavez.” Anti-lag was invented to help the AWD guys keep up with him. I like to think that, In Finland, they call him “Sisu,” and that, at service, he works on his crew. Tony Chavez cares deeply for rally and for the people who make it possible. Some of his comments here today might sting, but it’s clear Tony’s first concern is the longevity a relatively little-known sport where daredevils and rocket scientists alike come together to share in the best that life has to offer.
He is, the most interesting man in rally.
These days, pretty much everyone is online all the time. Social media and smart phones have put a fire hose of information in the palms of our hands 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To that end, most of the people we’ve interviewed over the years are people we’ve found online; sometimes Facebook, sometimes Twitter, but mostly on discussion forums. Which makes Darren Thomas stand out in my mind.
Three years ago, we heard about this guy out of Oklahoma who was rocking it in the Import Face-Off series. Trouble was, he didn’t do forums. In fact, he didn’t really do much online at all. We spoke with him via his girlfriend Giovannia, who got us the answers to our questions.
After three years, I wondered if I still had a good email address for Giovannia, Darren’s girlfriend. Would they still be together? Would I be able to do a follow up story? Why didn’t I think of this follow up idea sooner?
GOOD NEWS! STILL RACING!
Fortunately, Giovannia and Darren are still together, still racing, and still staying off the forums. I asked what they’ve been up to. “The last three years have been mixed with busy times and slow times. In 2009, we closed out the season with another Import Face-Off National Championship. That made us the 2008 and 2009 national points champion and we were pretty excited to take another win home.”
2010 found them expecting a baby girl, so they decided to stay close to home. Though they didn’t travel to any races, they did make a point of getting out to the local track to play around in test-and-tune. The goal for the year was to put the race car on a diet and shed as much weight as they possibly could. “We were able to lose a total of 350 pounds of unnecessary weight by cutting at the front end and even gutting out the doors and losing random bolts that served no purpose.”
GIMME FUEL. GIMME FIRE.
“The 2011 and 2012 seasons were by far our busiest years in regards to build work. We decided we had hit the limit on E-85 and made the switch to VP Import because it helped with the longevity of our motors and was more consistent.” They also upgraded the fuel system, as they maxed out the eight (that’s right – eight) 1600CC injectors fueling that beast.
In pursuit of new personal bests, they decided to build a second fuel system from the ground up. Methanol. This was a whole new setup for the car, designed around breaking records. Early in 2012, the team attended a Texas Import Face-Off event, where all that time and effort finally paid off. Darren turned out a new personal best – 8.78 @ 155 MPH.
Today, Darren and team are buttoning up a bunch of smaller items in preparation for the 2013 race season. That huge front mount intercooler has become a restriction, so it’s getting replaced. They’re also making too much power for the current stall converter, so that’s getting upgraded as well. And, since it’s been three years, they’re also updating all their safety gear to comply with NHRA regulations. Nice to hear about a team racing the same car long enough to need the safety updates.
“For the immediate season, we plan on racing any events we may find that have a class we fit into, no matter how far we have to travel.” No matter how far away? That’s a pretty lofty goal! I asked Giovannia how they’re planning to make that happen and, realistically, how far away is “too far away.”
“Traveling outside of what we call our local area is something we’re really looking forward to. In the past, we have taken on 21-hour trips to get to a race. Unfortunately, sometimes we had few racers in our class and, while the trip was an experience and fun for us, it was difficult to race. This season, we hope that our fans and friends will help us by passing along info about any races in the country we should attend.”
“Realistically, well, we don’t really think realistically. We just get up and go because we want to race. We don’t ever think about how far it may be away from us – only about the trip and the experience.” When I asked if they might make it out my way, to Phoenix, Giovannia told me, “If any races do come up for us in Phoenix, we might just make the trip. We went and raced there in 2008 and 2009 and wow, let me tell you y’all have a lot of dirt there!!”
Definitely a lot of dirt here in Arizona! Darren, Giovannia, and the entire Abel Racing team are also going to be out on the Import Face-Off circuit again this year, aiming to reclaim their National Champion title. If they’ve got any downtime during the season, rest assured they’re going to be playing with methanol. They want to break the 8.20-second AWD (all-wheel drive) automatic DSM record before they start playing with – and testing the limits of – a new project vehicle.
A NEW PROJECT?
Maybe it’s a bit early to be asking this, but what might Darren’s next race car be? Have they decided yet? “We really don’t have anything laid out specifically for a future build. We usually sit around and daydream about what we would like to do. So far, the only things we do know we would like to do are something with a V8 and make it rear wheel drive.”
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Gearbox Magazine is going to do a better job in the future of keeping in touch with the people and stories that mean the most to us. This is one of those stories. Our reminder is set. We’ll be checking back in with Darren and Giovannia again in a few months. Will Darren be online then? I wouldn’t count on it, but I know it’s only a matter of time before that AWD automatic DSM record falls.
This is going fast with class and pressing on regardless.
As part of our continued effort to keep in touch with the people who’ve kept in touch with us over the years, here’s a follow up with Mark Bullett, owner of the fastest, most powerful all-motor DSM on the planet.
GBXM: What’s new with you (cars & life, if you’re so inclined)? You’re clearly beyond the realm of the “staged” upgrades mentality, and probably beyond most common shelf parts. How would you describe the changes to the car since last we spoke in September 2010?
As any other “part time racer/full time employee” will tell you, one of the problems of being a single owner/driver/mechanic/builder/fabricator is not only doing all the “crap” that goes along with racing a car; but also that life intervenes. With the economy the way it is and work/personal schedules the way they are, it can keep you away from the car for long periods of time. This can test your resolve on wether or not you are passionate about racing.
That’s the situation I’ve been in for a bit. Just trying to find time to get out there and race. I’ve been trying to find time to not only work on the current race car but also my daily. With building new engines and making other changes to each car, its tough to find time to actually put the rubber to the road.
You see I’m also setting-up my daily as an “autocross” car (just wanted to try something new) and that is a whole new level of time and money.
With all that being said, I haven’t gotten as far as I wanted to. I have set-up the daily to stick to the road (full suspension upgrades etc.), but I haven’t gotten the power plant in and done yet. I wanted to use the current race car bottom end in the daily (as I was putting in the 16:1CR for the race car), but the car gods decided against it. From frozen heads to wrong sized rings to prototype broken promises to gremlins in the Megasquirt, it has been like pulling teeth to get any testing and building done. (Keep in mind that I’m also trying to test some set-ups out for our “community” – say running 12.5 comp on a daily with stock computer – so that also slows things down a bit).
But I am at the point that the 16 to 1 is finally built. It has only had one dyno session with a “not so properly ported” head (see previous reference to “frozen heads”) and an ECU tuner that had unknown electrical break-ups while on the dyno (see previous “gremlins in the Megasquirt”). But we were able to eek out a paltry 216whp. Not where it should be, but its a start (I also know the engine was good for 11.5k as that was where she ended up going when the tranny locked up while racing).
WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?
GBXM: How hard as it been to advance the platform from 219.4whp and 13.231 @ 106.09mph? Why is that?
The record is down to 13.14, but that is almost a nominal thing. While my power levels are good for 12’s – without a doubt – I’m running into a problem with the transmission being able to no lift shift above 8k. So that’s this winter’s project; rebuild a tranny that is capable of 8k+ passes. Sigh, never ending battle, along with all the other things; like I redesigned an LTH [long tube header ~bd] – our cars don’t have a provider. As far as I know, I’ve got the only one built for the 2GNT DSM. Well, after a whole bunch of “rigamaroll,” I finally found a local shop that said they would bend the pipes. OVER 6 MONTHS LATER, I was finally able to coerce them into bending a single set – and I made the jig and supplied the pipe for them! Like I said, like pulling teeth sometimes.
KEEP THE FAITH
Have faith, you single owner, part time racers. There is progress to be made if you keep passionate and focused. I could be going a lot faster if I chose another platform (which I won’t). I could be a lot faster if I chose to turbo my car (which I won’t). I could progress a lot faster if I took sponsors and had a team/crew to work with (which I won’t). I could progress a lot faster if I suddenly became a millionaire (which – haha – unfortunately, I won’t).
One thing I will do, however, is keep on moving forward and enjoying the racing and progress that I make. Because, when it’s all said and done, we ARE doing this for enjoyment…
Have you ever heard of the sunk costs fallacy? Basically, it’s when you keep spending money on something that isn’t working because, well, as much as you’ve spent on this so far, it would be a waste of money to walk away now. A lot of us run into this from time to time; we’ve fixed so much on our machines, they’re bound to be perfect soon, right? As much as this can be wishful thinking for some, it can be the reality for others.
INTRODUCTION: ERIC METCALF, DSMer, 2GNTer
Meet Eric Metcalf. He’s a web applications (computer) programmer from La Grange Park, near Chicago, Illinois. He’s a friend of mine from 2GNT, has a 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX for the track and a 1997 Eclipse RS (2GNT) for a daily driver. A while back, he posted something to Facebook which caught my eye and I thought it was important I share it with you here.
First, a little background on his 97 2GNT. Eric bought the 97 while doing an internship in Portland, Oregon, and drove it back home to Illinois. It would be his daily driver for years. Even now, when he can take the train in to work, he still drives the 2GNT a couple times a week. He says, “It has always been my reliable car for long trips, hot summers, and freezing winters.”
THE FACEBOOK COMMENT
Here’s what Eric posted on Facebook, almost randomly, as an update:
Time passes and you feel like you should just move on to something new. Then something comes up that you need to fix. Spending that time fixing the problem reminds you of all the work and time you spent over the years and how good it feels that you were able to get through it and come out better on the other side. Something new just wouldn’t have as much attachment as what you already have.
Coming out better on the other side. How’s that for perspective? As easy as it is to see the continual problems and repairs as reason enough to cut bait and run – sunk costs, after all – Eric presents a more optimistic point of view. I asked him how he thinks this perspective has helped or hindered him on his automotive journey. He responds:
I may have found new thrills working on and/or driving different cars. I don’t know if anything can beat the first warm day of spring when I can roll down the windows, open the sunroof, hear the engine scream wide open through the gears, and feel the handling through the curves in my Eclipse. This is the first car I worked on myself. It wasn’t in great condition when I bought it. I worked on it little by little, gaining more confidence to do more difficult maintenance, repair, and upgrades each time. Working on the car reminds me of how far I have brought the car since I bought it and also how far it has brought me.
WHY BUY A ROUGH 2GNT?
Eric told me he needed a new car and was actually in the market for something completely different, but always loved the look of the Eclipse. He wanted to get one some day, but they were still priced beyond what he wanted to spend. He spotted a banged-up specimen in his price range advertised in the local newspaper and had to check it out. I don’t know what he had been planning to purchase, but as he puts it, “I had never driven a small, manual car before and it was much more exciting to drive than the car I planned on buying.”
The Eclipse was the first car Metcalf learned to work on. His dad used to fix up cars, but now he was thousands of miles away. With more time than money and a roommate to lend a hand, Eric started where most of us do – performing small maintenance
“The more I worked on the car, the more I found it’s not such a mystery how everything works, and not so complicated that I couldn’t do it myself. Any problems or questions I ran into, I could find the answer in an online forum for my particular car.”
DSMers: THE BEST PART ABOUT OWNING AN ECLIPSE
“The best thing for me is meeting others with the same car. Those with the same taste in a car seem to share more than just that. All cars have their strong and weak points; price, looks, handling, and speed are examples. You choose a car based on these things and I believe this choice is based on your current outlook on life. For example, I’d rather buy a nice used phone for cheap and mod it. It’s cheap, modern looking, and slightly customized but not the most popular or top of the line phone. Which seems similar to my car choice.”
Eric told me he keeps going back and forth between being very involved in some form of motorsport and not being involved at all. He hasn’t been doing much “playing with cars” lately, but can see himself getting back into it again in the future, given the right inspiration. For now, he’s just happy with the DSM the way it sits right now. So long as it keeps running well and looking young, he’ll keep enjoying it.
When asked about the most important thing this car has taught him about himself, Eric replies, “The car has taught me I am capable of learning about and doing unfamiliar hobbies. I’m never afraid to try a new hobby that I have no previous experience with before. Also that there are a lot of friendly people on car forums willing to help you out.”
Sunk cost fallacy. Spend enough time and money on a vehicle – we all do – and you find yourself faced with the question of whether it’s worth it or not. Eric Metcalf reminds us that it is indeed worth it more often than not. The time we spend “playing with cars” is time well spent. We learn something every time we pick up a wrench.
Are you coming out better on the other side as a result of being a gearhead?
Let’s face it. Those of us who travel in tuner circles tend to see a lot of cookie cutter bullshit. For every one gearhead doing something fresh and different, there are a dozen others merely ordering the biggest, most expensive, brand name parts they can fit on their credit cards in pursuit of untenable “goals.” This guy is the former. I caught up with him to talk about his nearly complete, Mitsubishi-powered Dodge.
INTRODUCTIONS: THE MAN
We like to give a little background into the people we interview – where they live and what they do – because we want to show what people like us (who don’t have the means to build a new vehicle from scratch in three months or such) are capable of doing when we put our minds to it. The rough and (nearly) ready Dodge truck you see here today belongs to Steven Johnson of Denver, Colorado.
Steven runs the emergency services department for the world’s largest fire and flood restoration business. Steven handles the worst of the worst case scenarios, helping people get through the first hours or days of the worst disaster they may have ever had to experience. Fires, building collapses, severe wind damage (tornadoes), cars crashing into buildings – pretty much anything that can, as Steven puts it, “jack up your home or business,” he’s the guy on the other end of the line coordinating resources to get everything back to normal.
I met Steven on GalantVR4.org, where he goes by the screen name “biglady112.” I figure there’s got to be a story behind that, so let’s start there. “Back in the mid-90s, when the Internet was just getting off the ground, I was taking a computer class. We were informed by our teacher that we were going to be starting a Yahoo email account as part of the class. I took it as a joke of course and did not take things seriously as most kids do in school. I originally wanted to use Fatchick112, but my female teacher and I did not see eye to eye. So we compromised on Biglady112.” That little piece of trivia aside, let’s get into the meat and potatoes, shall we?
INTRODUCTIONS: THE MACHINES
Mr. Biglady has a diverse collection of vehicles, starting with a 1989 Dodge Colt Turbo. Steven’s left this spry little econobox bone stock for daily driver duty. Says Steven, “I put and engine together earlier this year for this thing. I pretty much never drive it, as I drive a company vehicle for work all the time, as I am always on call. But this is an extra vehicle that we usually only use for date nights when I can break away from work.”
He’s also got a 1999 Saturn SL, also stock, which is his fiance’s daily driver. With 216,000 miles on the clock, it refuses to die, but you’re not here for dent resistant panels. You’re here for denting panels, for chop, cut, rebuild, for the 1947 Dodge pickup. Despite the longstanding, if not official partnership between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, it might seem strange to see Steven’s thrown a Mitsubishi Sirius lump into this beast. Then again, Mitsubishi was making Jeeps nearly 30 years before Chrysler bought out AMC, so maybe it’s not so strange after all. Especially when you think about how the Mitsubishi 4G6X is known for producing anything from 200 to upwards of 1,000 wheel horsepower. Add to that Steven’s decision to put the power through a GM TH400 trans and an Eaton LSD-equipped 12-bolt rear end, and you have a recipe for a surprisingly sweet cruiser-slash-street-toy.
SERIOUSLY, THOUGH. A 4-BANGER IN A HOT ROD? WHY?
“I’ve spent a lot of years racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where the street and rat rods always seem to draw me in. About three years ago there was a huge showing of rat rods in Wendover for Speed Week. I got to thinking I would love to own one some day. Well, as my skill levels increased and I acquired more tools in my garage, it was only a matter of time. I saw all the money a friend I was racing with was spending with just no end in sight and no real major payoff for all the effort we were putting in. My car was very, very close to making its first passes down the salt, but I think my better judgment and desire to no longer be in debt made my decision for me. I took all the parts off the car and sold my friend the chassis for nothing. I could still afford the hobby, but racing was just a never ending pit. So I took a leap and took on a ground-up build that would be unique. I don’t ever see any rat rods in my area and certainly none like what I have anywhere on the Internet.”
AND WHEN IT’S FINALLY COMPLETE?
Steven says, “The main goal of the truck is to scare the crap out of anyone brave enough to take a ride in a hot rod with drum brakes all around.”
You get to a point with any project where you’ve learned enough about man and machine to realize you might have done this or that differently, when asked about the most difficult part of this project so far, he points to the frame and rear suspension setup. “The frame and rear suspension were the hardest part of the truck; safety being the major concern. I had to measure, measure and remeasure. And I still got things wrong. Just trying to make sure it all meshed together, looked how I wanted – and functioned – was challenging. I just took all the things I had seen online, seen on other vehicles at the track, all the advice of my friends and family, and made decisions based on what made the most sense and what seemed the safest.”
That said, if he knew then what he knows now, Johnson would redo the rear suspension. He doesn’t like not having full control over the 4-link as designed. In fact, he can only adjust in two ways – not four – which can be frustrating as it binds up. Lesson learned? “I would take a more conventional route next time, rather than the easier route. I would do a more traditional and proven drag racing four link setup.”
This old Dodge isn’t quite done yet. Johnson’s going to finish plumbing the brakes and design/install the steering. Aside from that, the truck already runs, with the entire drivetrain functioning as a single unit. Steven’s had it running more than a couple months now, working out the bugs he can while it’s parked in the garage. Unless a major catastrophe happens, he hopes to be driving this thing before the holidays. “Would be nice to take it to the family Christmas party this year.”
Steven spends most of his time on the major DSM forums, but he’s also on GalantVR4.org, a couple Suzuki Samurai sites (he’s owned four of those in the past), and he’s also on TeamSwift.net, a Suzuki performance forum he found while messing with those Samurais.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
We had a bit of a tough time putting this story together. In fact, at the last minute, 90% of it changed drastically, and then we ran into technical difficulties. In a way, that’s how things go when you do something out of the ordinary. Have you ever wanted to build a hot rod of some kind? What makes your idea special?
Working on your own car is a great way to save a little money. Racing your own car is a great way to spend a LOT of money. We’ve all seen stories about people who’ve spent crazy amounts of money to get the right look or shave precious tenths off their times. Here’s a story about a guy who’s doing what many of us thought was impossible. He’s racing on a shoestring budget. [Read more…]
I think I speak for all of us who, for whatever reason, could not make it to Norwalk to party with you at the DSM/EVO Shootout when I say, go fast with class and the only way you’re getting free donuts at the All American Inn is is you stay up all night drinking. [Read more…]
We all have our favorite car (or truck or bike) events we return to year after year. A big part of why we attend those events is the machines. As gearheads, we love checking out the hardware, don’t we? We put in extra time and energy to make sure our vehicles are at their best because we know our brothers and sisters will be looking to them for ideas just like we’ll be looking at theirs.
The machines bring us together – across the street, across town, across the globe. [Read more…]